WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden spelled out grand ambitions in his first address to Congress, led by more than $4 trillion in new spending and the largest tax increase since the Great Society. Historic levels of party unity now on display in Congress mean he could succeed with only Democratic votes.
“We have to come together to heal the soul of this nation,” he said last week in a nod toward bipartisanship. But to achieve his goal — a monumental increase in government spending to bolster infrastructure, green energy, child and elder care, and public education — he won’t be able to accede to Republican demands, which are to significantly downscale his plans. That means using the budget reconciliation process that allows Democrats to proceed with simple majorities.
It will require their narrow majorities in the House and Senate to stick together, which would seem at first blush a tough job, given their narrowness — a six-seat margin in the House and an evenly divided Senate. But first impressions can be deceiving.
Consider this: 100 House votes, so far in 2021, have split a majority of Republicans from a majority of Democrats. The average Democratic representative has voted with fellow partisans 99.2 percent of the time.
The House is currently divided between 218 Democrats and 212 Republicans, meaning Democrats can lose no more than two votes if Republicans are united in opposition. And yet, they are winning vote after vote.
Bill after bill
On the party’s highest-priority bills — the elections, campaign finance and ethics measure known as HR 1 and a background check bill for gun purchases — Speaker Nancy Pelosi lost only one Democratic vote. On LGBTQ and women’s rights bills and a bill to grant legal status to unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children, Democrats voted unanimously in favor.
Seven House Democrats survived the 2020 election even as President Donald Trump was carrying their districts: Cindy Axne of Iowa, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Jared Golden of Maine, Andy Kim of New Jersey, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.
It would stand to reason that they might break with the party more often than other Democrats, and they are. And yet, they are voting with the party on average 95.6 percent of the time.
Then take the 19 Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition, who call themselves “centrists” and say they are still guided by the group’s traditional support for “fiscal responsibility.” And yet, is there any indication that they might stand in the way of more than $4 trillion in new spending, only part of which Biden proposes to pay for with new taxes?